There are few things I love more than Los Angeles and basketball. It’s been exactly seven days since those two things, and much of the world-at-large has been in shock and mourning of the deaths of Kobe Bryant, his basketball prodigy daughter, Gigi, and seven other people in a senseless helicopter crash.
The earth kept spinning, and meaningful events have happened in news and politics since but my mind, my conversations, my dreams have found only this thing to be of consequence in the last week.
From the moment it happened, it has been a constant topic in my work. We’ve covered the story, and it’s aftermath exhaustively and effectively on etonline.com. It ran through the GRAMMYs ceremony that night. Audiences have come to us in large numbers looking for news and context. Some were hoping we’ll help them make sense of it all. Others were wishing we’d turn away from it. Most, I imagine, knowing we can’t and shouldn’t. That it’s our responsibility to write and report and produce our way through it.
My job is to lead teams that report on how these things are performing. What are the numbers behind it all? What do those numbers mean? The numbers have stirred emotion. How to acknowledge record-breaking performance that is in response to tragedy? We want to celebrate our effectiveness and the quality of the work, but this is not something to which you raise your glasses. Every celebrity death or tragic event is like this, but somehow, this feels different.
A few hours after it happened, I got up from my computer and walked to the store needing a break from the rumors and crazy in the hours after the news broke. The city was already beginning to fill with melancholy. The neighborhood felt eerily quiet. The usual din of Trader Joe’s was muted. My cashier asked me if I’d heard the news and then told me that she had been getting some shots up at the park right before coming into work. On her last shot, she yelled, “KOBE!” and it went in. Then she got to the store, and a colleague told her the news.
Another of her co-workers had been sent home early after it was clear he wasn’t going to be able to stop sobbing any time soon.
I haven’t been able to watch any basketball since the crash, not even highlights. I’ve kept up with some NBA scores, but does this season even matter any more? In a season where the Lakers have finally returned to glory and, for the first time, had a legit in-town rival in the Clippers, there was an energy around men’s basketball we hadn’t seen in a while. Now, do we care? The primary storyline of this NBA season has been derailed. Now, the only real question is how will the league, it’s players, and the culture around basketball honor one of it’s most beloved and influential stars, gone too soon?
The Lakers are the center of the NBA universe, and Kobe had become the essence of what it meant to be a Laker. Of course, there’s Magic and Jerry and Kareem, but for most of the last twenty years, the face of the franchise was employee number 8. I didn’t love or even really like Kobe the player or the person he was during most of his playing career. He was well on his way to winning me over in his retirement, though. The grim discipline and determination that marked his NBA years had shifted to joy and vitality and passion for being a great parent, a good neighbor, and a lover of the game in all its forms—especially the women’s game.
These are all things I respect and appreciate in others. Bryant and his daughter had so integrated themselves into the fabric and rhythms of the culture of basketball that matters most to me that they had become constants.
Aside: as I write this with music on shuffle, RJ & Choice’s Get Rich is playing. Choice raps
We attended several of the same games in the last twelve months. They had recently become a meme popular among women’s basketball fans. Gigi was a regular in basketball highlights. They were vibrant. They were alive.
And then they weren’t.
As my barber cut my hair yesterday, she told me that she had been at a hair show in Long Beach when the news started to spread. It was just a few moments before a barber battle. Rob Ferrel, an incredible hair artist, changed his plans on the spot and whipped out this winning piece.
A few days later, he would make something even better.
My trainer and I spent most of our lone session this week reminiscing about Kobe’s basketball legacy and discussing how we’ve been coping. He bleeds Lakers purple and gold. Kobe’s final game still sits on his DVR. We didn’t cry together, but I wouldn’t have been surprised or ashamed if we had.
I’ve read RIP KOBE on every city bus I’ve seen this week. I haven’t made a trip outside of the house where I didn’t see a jersey or cap or a face that didn’t express the anguish running through this town.
Shaquille O’neal is crying on my television. A co-worker is weeping in my office. A dream version of me screams out in anguish.
A helicopter just flew overhead. It’s seven days later, and it’s a beautiful morning in this city I adore. There’s no fog to obscure its path. It will reach its destination, and those aboard will keep going.
So will you. So will I. So will we.
To Los Angeles and basketball, we’re bruised but not broken.
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